Q: Would there be any resources about making the move from a community college to a four-year college or university? I’ve found it exceedingly difficult myself. The question that arises, of course, is how to address the issue without offending those already at the four-year or university level, i.e., how not to accuse them of conforming to a stigma about CC librarians being “dangerously” unqualified to work for them.
TA: Unfortunately, there is sometimes a perception that the gulf between community college libraries and university libraries may be too wide to bridge, so it’s your job to address these concerns in your application materials. It will help to first identify and consider the differences between the two types of institutions.
In her article, “The Other Academic Library: Librarianship at the Community College,” author Jennifer Arnold explores the differences between working at a community college library and at a four-year college or university library. The main difference is that community college faculty generally focus more on teaching and less on research. Faculty are generally not tenured, rather, they participate in what Arnold calls “tenure light.” As she writes: “After a period of employment ranging from 3 to 5 years, a community college employee can move from a yearly, conditional contract to an extendible contract, which protects the employee against the termination of his or her contract outside of an act of gross misconduct, as defined by the college.”
There are also many differences between the students at the two types of institutions. Most significantly, Arnold points out the transient nature of the student population at community colleges: “With unique programs, and a significant amount of corporate/ continuing education, students also tend to flow in and out of the community college.”
All of these circumstances converge to create quite a different environment for libraries on the community college campus, who are generally involved in a number of activities. Instead of focusing strictly on public services or technical services, for example, community college librarians are frequently involved in all aspects of the library: working in technical services, serving on the reference desk, meeting with faculty, etc. Arnold refers to this as the “soup to nuts” aspect of community college librarianship.
Community college librarians also face the challenges of getting faculty (who focus primarily on teaching rather than research) and students (who may commute from a distance for their specific program, and who are on campus for limited amounts of time) to use library materials and services. Some view these as challenges, where others see opportunities. These opportunities are what you want to focus on when applying for other positions.
So, recognizing these differences, how do you make the switch?
- Play up the strengths and the opportunities available in your community college position, especially the diversity of duties and the diversity of your clientele. This will show your ability to relate to people at all levels, and provide evidence of flexibility, creative thinking, and innovation.
- Stay active professionally: publish, speak, attend conferences, and/or be an active (and responsible) participant on library lists. Join local or national associations, and work hard to establish yourself professionally by serving on committees or running for office.
- Last, but not least: Highlight transferable skills in your cover letter and resume, and show progressively responsible job duties or leadership opportunities (committee service, campus service, professional involvement).
Yes, some do believe that those making the “leap” from a community college library to a four-year institution may be, in your words, “dangerously unqualified.” Most institutions, though, are looking for applicants with demonstrated experience in leadership, creativity, innovation, outreach, and working with a diverse clientele, in addition to the specific technical duties of the position. Community college libraries are an excellent environment in which to gain some of these skills; seize these opportunities and make them work to your advantage when moving on to your next position.